UKFast: Homegrowing your talent [Case study]

13 October 2016 -

“HomeGrown"

Work experience and apprenticeships can help you build the future of your company

Developing the next generation is at the heart of everything that cloud company UKFast does.

The company is known not just for providing high-quality hosting services to their clients, but also for their extensive work with schools, colleges and universities to help inspire a future generation of digital entrepreneurs and tech talent.

Aaron Saxton, director of training and education, said: “Our founder and CEO, Lawrence Jones, realised that the future of the business isn’t tomorrow or next year, it’s 10, 20 years away. If you want to build a business that will last, you need to start developing those future leaders now.”

School engagement is the future

UKFast believes that recruitment starts with schools, so they’re building an ever-increasing educational network. Currently, the company works with 45 schools, reaching 35,000 students in the Greater Manchester area.

Saxton, a former school teacher himself, said: “We hold workshops, career events, conferences and talks. Where better to promote digital careers than in schools?”

And it works: the company was named a Top 100 Apprentice Employer for the second year running and is seeing former apprentices move into key roles within the business.

UKFast and their partner schools create tailored programmes to ensure students are inspired and get the most out of their education. That way, they come into the workplace equipped with the skills that the tech industry is crying out for.


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The company runs activities ranging from career master classes to workshops on interviewing skills, CV writing and applying for a job.

Saxton said: “We bring students on site to immerse them in an inspirational environment. We make them aware of the opportunities available to them like work experience, apprenticeships and, of course, an incredible career.”

UKFast works with students from all backgrounds and aims to bring access to technology and business to all children in the Greater Manchester region.

Saxton added: “Some of the young people we work with don’t have positive role models in their lives and can’t access the curriculum in the same way other students can. Often the only thing restricting them is their own ambition, so we show them the opportunities that are right on their doorstep. That can be all they need.”

Home-grow your talent: work experience and apprenticeships

UKFast employees are supported by a dedicated, five-strong training team to help deliver the practical elements of work experience and apprenticeship courses.

The programmes are in high demand, so there’s a stringent selection process. The full application process includes assessments, psychometric testing and group interviews.

Saxton said: “Some schools think this is bonkers, but we see it as a job interview for our future talent.”

Successful work experience candidates are placed in teams within the business, shadowing some of company’s most senior employees. They’re given a ’curriculum’ of projects to work on during their one or two weeks with the company, dealing with real customers.

The work experience programme is also key for recruiting apprentices.

Apprentices currently make up 15% of the company’s workforce and some of the most successful of them were introduced to UKFast through work placements.

About building diverse teams, Saxton said: “We have a holistic approach to reviewing candidates. GCSE results are important, but so is attitude.

“We want the full picture of someone’s skills, values, what drives them and how we can motivate them to achieve their potential. You wouldn’t want a team where everyone’s the same.”

UKFast have linked their programmes so that there are clear pathways into the business.

Saxton added: “The instant you look at home-growing your talent, you’re saving time and money on recruitment. Instead of investing in trying to bring in the right people with the right skills, you simply look for great young people and nurture the skills, creativity and loyalty in-house.”

So far, 100% of UKFast’s graduated apprentices have moved into full-time roles within the company.

Challenges

One challenge is for schools to find time on the curriculum to work with companies like UKFast.

At the moment employer engagement isn’t part of Ofsted’s criteria, so schools aren’t that focused on it. Saxton explains: “We’re trying to get to the source of this problem. We work with educational partners to try and feed business engagement into the teacher training programme. Teachers need to understand what businesses can offer their students and how to build that into their teaching.”

Another challenge is recognising that working with school leavers is different to working with established professionals. That’s why softer skills are a key focus for UKFast.

Understanding the expectations of a commercial business, such as the consequences of being absent or underperforming, is a huge part of starting a career.

Saxton said: “I’d be a liar if I said that we didn’t encounter any problems. Some young people can be a bit lazy; punctuality can be an issue. They’re not necessarily ‘work ready’.

“Many young people haven’t had the opportunity to develop these skills. It’s our responsibility to point them in the right direction. I think a lot of employers complain about this, but just because there are areas for development doesn’t mean there’s no potential.”

Read more great case studies and hear about more ways companies are engaging with their next generation of leaders

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